There are movies that entertain and there are movies that make you think as they entertain. Then there are movies simply make you think while inspiring you. Of Gods and Men belongs in this category. It is a French film that is based on events that took place in Algiers in 1996. It explores faith, freedom, and brotherhood.
A small group of Trappist monks live in a monastery in Tibhirine, Algeria. It is a small, pastoral community that has grown up around the monastery. The monks interact with the villagers in a number of ways—they provide free medical and social services, sell honey made at the monastery, attend village functions, and one of them even offers counsel about love. Though they are Catholic and the community Islamic, there is an interdependence among them and mutual respect for their differing faiths. This peaceful existence is shattered when civil war breaks out and a terrorist group begins killing foreigners in the village. The monastery is endangered as it represents not only a foreign faith, but a reminder of French colonization (the monks are all French). It’s at this point the story gets intriguing.
There is conflict at several levels. The most prevalent is the threat from the terrorists. They barge into the monastery on Christmas Eve demanding medical supplies but Christian, the leader of the monks, refuses by telling them that the medicine is for the villagers. They leave without incident but a lingering shadow remains because the monks know sooner or later they will return and the result will probably not be as favorable. There is the corrupt local army that is none too pleased when the monks refuse the protection they offer and later are highly displeased when they treat one of the wounded terrorists. The army sends a helicopter to hover menacingly over the monastery in an effort to intimidate them. There is the Algerian government who wants the monks to leave. Finally, there is even disagreement among the monks as to what they should do. While most of the them think they should remain and continue their ministry, a few think they should leave and return to France.
Throughout the film, there are extended devotional scenes—wonderfully refreshing moments where we see the monks, singing, chanting, praying, or worshipping together (when is the last time you’ve seen that in a movie?). Their contemplativeness and listening stands in sharp contrast to the our hectic, noisy existence. From the movie’s arc, it shows how God is integrated into everything they do. And yet it is not heavy handed or off putting. In fact, there is a winsomeness about their commitment.
The other striking feature of the film is the brotherhood exhibited by the monks. They have different personalities, different responsibilities, different perspectives, yet they have a profound commitment to each other that transcends their differences and forges a unity able to withstand the extreme pressures they face. There’s something tremendously heartening in seeing a group of people stand together for good and God. If you want a movie that will inspire and challenge you in regard to faith, Of Gods and Men will do both quite well.